What’s Kyle got this month?
I have quoted Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755 - 1826) before. It was he who said, “tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are”. This is one of those aphorisms like Aristotle’s “give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man” that you know to be true and always thought you heard from your grandmother. (Note that the Ancients Greeks didn’t do gender balance: Aristotle’s advice applies to all genders I think.) Brillat-Savarin’s comment is easier to digest; what we eat affects our health and our well-being … and it influences our environment and our relationships with other people.
Here on the South Coast we are lucky to live in a reasonably fertile area and we are even luckier to have access to food that is locally grown and that has not travelled hundreds of kilometres to get to us (and, therefore, doesn’t have all the associated transport costs and vehicle emissions). It seems a strange thing to me that there are oranges from Florida in our shops. A few of our local growers of vegetables are well-known; one could almost say they are famous. Fraser and Kirsti, Tim and Toby … these are people that we see at the markets on Saturdays or Tuesdays.
Kyle Levier is a grower who runs Fulcrum Farm just slightly north of Turlinjah. Over the next twelve months I’m going to follow Kyle through an annual growing cycle. Each month, I will look at a particular vegetable that is in season. So, this will be a vegetable journey; as it happens Kyle and his partner Nat are vegans but I’m not going to push any particular dietary agenda. As it happens I am a full-on carnivore; the only thing I don’t like are Brussels sprouts (which Kyle tells me are next month’s delight).
This month we’re going to look at broccolini. I did not know that broccolini is a sort of made-up vegetable. According to the Washington Research and Extension Center broccolini is a hybrid first developed in 1993 by the Sakata Seed Company in Yokohama, Japan. It is a hybrid of broccoli and kai-lan (also known as Chinese broccoli or Chinese kale). It is not a genetically modified plant; it has been bred to be the way it is. Interestingly, it is a registered trade mark. Now that it’s been about for almost a quarter of a century perhaps no one is too bothered about the trade mark though I notice that the word is not in the Microsoft spell-checker.
The broccolini that you are buying today, in July, was planted between March and May. Kyle does successive plantings in that period so there’s a continuous supply. Broccolini likes a soil of pH between 6 and 7. Kyle raises his seeds for 6 – 8 weeks before transplanting them. Home gardeners can purchase Italian sprouting broccoli either as seed or as seedlings. Planting between March and May should avoid problems with cabbage moth caterpillars. If you plant later in the year, say in July or August, then you will see a beautiful display of yellow flowers, instead of florets. The warmer weather and longer days encourage the plant into reproduction mode and florets are quick to open into flowers. Nevertheless, they are still edible in this form and will add great colour to spring meals.
Kyle’s approach to growing is biodynamic. As he says “there’s a difference between being biodynamic and being organic. The biodynamic approach is based on observation, it’s about the system as a whole.” To my simple mind, what that means is that if I eat a biodymanically grown vegetable I am not eating any artificial chemical or additive. This seems to me to be A Good Thing. It is why I shall live to be a hundred.
The G (who is “her indoors”) insists that I always eat a green vegetable. There is enough of the small boy left in me to rebel against this injunction but her other name is “she who must be obeyed” and I usually do. It is the easier course. The thing about broccolini is that it tastes pretty good. You can eat all of it; I don’t like those fat stems that you get with broccoli. Broccolini stems are narrower and more tender. You can eat it raw; indeed, eating it raw will mean you get the full flavour but it may not be for everyone. A 2005 study (albeit 10 years ago) found that in Australia 78% of people steam broccolini, 53% stir fry it, and 3% eat it raw or in a salad.
Above: A bamboo steamer: low maintenance kit
Personally, I usually steam it. Steaming operations in our kitchen require the use of a bamboo steamer. These have several benefits one of which is that you don’t really need to wash them up and you just leave them to dry. I usually put the broccolini into the steamer once the water is boiling and then let them steam for about 4 minutes. At that point, they’ll be slightly al dente. Tip them into a bowl and toss them in some butter and, if you have some almonds you can scatter them in. If you are not into butter then use a bit of sesame oil and sprinkle on some sesame seeds. Sesame oil does give vegetables an attractive glaze.
Of course, you can do what my mother would have done which is to pitch the broccolini into a saucepan of boiling water and boil them. The trouble with this is that the water-soluble vitamins are lost. In this I may be wrong; my being wrong is not unprecedented. It is allegedly the English cook, Mrs Beeton (1836 - 1865), who is responsible for several generations of women boiling vegetables to death.
Storing fresh broccolini is pretty straightforward. Cut a little from the stems diagonally and place the talks upright in some suitable container with about 5 cms of water in the bottom. Cover with a paper towel and a plastic bag and keep in the fridge. It’ll keep for a week and be fresh as when you use it. If you are worried about bad things leaching out of plastics bags then use a paper bag more paper towel. Here’s a quick and easy Broccolini Soup that The G knocked up yesterday.
Above: Broccolini soup: what you might call a winter warmer
You will need:
some oil a garlic clove or two (or more; garlic is like cumin, it’s hard to overdo it. We grow our own garlic)some leeks (maybe two or three, ours came from Queen Street Growers. Slice them) a potato (ours was also from Queen Street Growers, peeled and cut into chunks. This is for the starch which will thicken the soup)a bunch of broccolini (you can bung them in whole for roughly chop them; ours, of course, came from Kyle) a litre (say) of stock (either vegetable or chicken. Always make your own stock and freeze it … we get our chickens from Josh at the Tuross Butchery) salt and pepper to taste (and chopped parsley if you have it) heat the oil in a pan and fry off the leeks and garlic add the stock and the potato; bring to the boil and simmer until the potato is soft (about 12 – 15 minutes) add the broccolini and simmer until soft (4 – 6 minutes) liquidise and season to taste, add the parsley if you have it sprinkle on a crouton or two if you have them and eat it with a good hunk (or, in my case, two) of Honor bread and feel good because nothing you ate travelled very far (except perhaps the pepper); you have done a bit for the planet
Next month we’ll be looking at Brussels sprouts. We will be asking, among other things, what Brussels has to do with these beasts and how that may be affected by Brexit.